Do guns heighten power or fear?

Ryan Hiscocks, Context Americana

We are a scared fragile people, and this week two young Americans were shot, one fatally because they made a common mistake: 16-year-old Ralph Yarl and 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis both got lost and ended up on a scared person’s property and gunned down. The shooters, both white men over the age of 65, thought their homes were being broken into which justified the shootings, and in Gillis’s case, her murder.     

The National Rifle Association had its annual rally last week where the fetishization of guns as home security, sporting gear and indelible national symbol was put on garish display. Several 2024 presidential hopefuls groveled — including former President Donald Trump — promising to block any attempt to further regulate or take away guns from law-abiding citizens. The bad guys won’t win because we are armed. 

And there is no doubt about it, guns are an equalizer. They give the weakest among us the ability to maim or kill the strongest. 

No matter how much time you spend in the gym, or how confident you are in your jiu-jitsu when facing off against a person with a gun, you will lose. Guns empower the weak and embolden the scared. Young, healthy Yarl was no match for an 85-year-old with a gun. 

For Americans, the allure of power in the face of fear has given rise to an industry that has sold more guns than there are people in our country — and there are roughly 340 million of us. So why are we still so afraid when we are so well-armed? Although I could easily speculate an answer to that question, what’s the point? 

Second Amendment advocates, NRA zealots, and professors of constitutional law will tell you that no matter your political identity, guns and our right to own them are part of our constitutional liberties. Guns are a fact of American life, protected by law and it’s always been that way. End of discussion.   

Push a little harder though and Second Amendment advocates will also tell you that guns are promised to the people to keep our tyrannical government at bay. Guns are the mechanism ensuring all of our other constitutional freedoms and we are close to a moment when our government needs to be reminded of this arrangement. They got guns, we got guns too. 

In the context of our Democratic Republic, this argument is questionable at best. Democracy, very much like guns, is also an equalizer. When we vote we are all just “one’s.” No matter who you are, billionaire to broke, you are the same, you are one. 

And it is the people who represent us in office who have real power over the decisions we make, and many of the benefits we receive. They are elected into office by voters, not marched into power at gunpoint. It is our power to choose who represents us that keeps us free, not the guns we have sitting in our closets, under our beds, or on our nightstands.  

Gillis will be added to this year’s list of Americans who have been killed by a gun, Yarl will be on a different list. The number killed will land somewhere near 38,000 by year’s end and guns will be the leading cause of death for children.

The men who shot Yarl and Gillis will live the rest of their lives in prison because they were frightened of a child and a young adult who merely got lost. Those men will soon realize they have never known what real fear is, not yet.